Exotic skin is a type of leather that is not made from cattle hide and often used as a luxury option for fashion wearers. They can be used in handbags, shoes, belts, clothing, furniture, and many other things. Leather has always had high importance in the textile industry. Leather and leather products accumulate an estimated global trade value of 100 billion dollars a year with genuine exotic skins making up less than 1% of the entire leather industry. Not only does it have a very important role in not only the fashion industry but the world’s economy. The most common types of exotic skin include those from animals such as pythons, iguanas, teyuses, ostriches, stingrays, crocodiles, alligators and sharks.
CITES, which stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an agreement between government agencies that work to protect wild animals and plants. It is used to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of these species. International wildlife trade includes hundreds of millions of plants and animals’ species and is now a billion-dollar industry. Under CITES regulations, exotic skins require certification to demonstrate their origins and travel history thus ensuring that it was obtained legally and ethically. It is important that this certification travels with these exotic skins or they risk confiscation. However, even with certification, some exotic skins are still banned from certain countries.
Types of Exotic Skins
The American Alligator
Description: It is usually easier to work with than other crocodile skin because it has less bone and has a very smooth belly which is what is seen in higher quality brands and shoes.
Regulations: The American alligator can also be shipped worldwide with the exception of Australia
Description: It is a very pliable and sturdy leather. The skin of crocodile has a more consistent pattern than alligators. It is very soft to the touch and has tiny pores from their sensory hairs. It is still being used to make purses, belts, and shoes.
Regulations: Crocodile skin can be shipped worldwide with the exception of Australia.
Description: The hides are thin and not prone to tearing and that makes this leather more durable and resilient. They are cut one of two ways, either on their back or their belly, depending on which part of the hide is wanted.
Regulations: Lizard skin can be shipped worldwide with the exception of Australia.
Description: Ostrich leather is known for its softness, flexibility, and durability. It is one of the strongest leathers available, with naturally occurring oils contributing to its ability to prevent cracking even under extreme temperatures and sun exposure.
Regulations: Ostrich skin can be shipped worldwide.
Description: Python skin is very pliable, and lightweight which makes it easy for application. It comes with a diverse selection of colors and styles and is often glazed or matted. Also, something special about python skin is that no two skins are the same.
Regulations: Python skin can be shipped worldwide, however shipment to Australia and California is prohibited.
Description: Shark skin is covered in small tubercles. It is commonly known for its rough, coarse texture, however, finer tanned shark skins are softer and almost fabric-like, making them much more malleable.
Regulations: Sharkskin can be shipped worldwide.
Description: Stingray skin is extremely hard to work with due to it being mostly cartilage. Generally, it is filed down to be more malleable and easier to handle.
Regulations: Stingray skin can be shipped worldwide.
Description: This leather is known for its natural light and dark pigmented pattern that is unique to every hide. This feature gives a natural tonality to dyes used on this leather
Regulations: Teyus skin can be shipped worldwide with the exception of Australia.
There is often a grading system used when describing exotic leather-based on defects on the skin. The general grading system is very simple, having only 2 Grades. Grade 1 implying that the skins are free of any defects in the center of the skin, and Grade 2 implying that there are defects in the center of the skin, such as blemishes, holes, scars, or scratches. Most exotic skins follow these general rules of grading except for Ostrich skins, Crocodiles skins, and Stingray skins.
Alligator skins: 2 Grades
Crocodile skins: 3 grades. Grade 1 requiring no cuts or holes in the pattern area. Grade 2 allows a cut in the belly area without any damage and minor scaling and Grade 3 allowing a cut or hole in the pattern area without any damage, and scaling of less than one-fifth of the pattern making area.
Lizard skins: 2 Grades
Ostrich skins: 4 Grades. Grade 1 requiring three quarters to be free from defects and only slightly visible scars in the outside area of the crown and Grade 4 requiring one-quarter of the skin to be free from defects with scarring allowed in the area outside of the crown.
Python skins: 2 Grades
Shark skins: 2 Grades
Stingray skins: 2 Grades, Gold and Silver, with Grade 2 (Gold) being pristine with no flaws, and Grade 1 (Silver) having minor blemishes or scars.
Teyus skins: 2 Grades
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Recent Exotic Skin Trends
An important recent industry event regarding exotic skins is the announcement of Chanel banning the use of exotic skins, making them the largest luxury brand in the industry to ban the use of these materials. Their reasoning behind this ban was that it has become increasingly harder to find ethically sourced materials to use in their collections. However, most brands rather find an ethical way to source the material than ban exotic skins from their brand. This includes the increased investment in production facilities or farms to source their skins from. For example, Balenciaga invested in a python farm in Thailand to source its hides from, and Hermes operating its own reptile production facility. Although there is a constant push for the use of an alternative instead of exotic skins, it is still a trend that is predicted to be around for a long time.